Since 2013, when Fila began to focus heavily on its heritage business, the brand has grown exponentially — more than 100 percent year-over-year, according Jon Epstein, president at Fila North America.
“The heritage category is a huge business driver for us right now. We have an opportunity to inspire a new generation of consumers,” he said, adding that the category has opened up prime retail channels such as Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s and Foot Locker.
Across the sneaker market, the retro trend is seeing an uptick, and experts predict there’s more runway ahead for the movement.
Matt Powell, sports industry analyst at The NPD Group Inc., said, “We are seeing the fashion cycles compress, but my gut is that retro can last a little longer because there is so much great product in the pipeline and the vaults of the brands. Companies are able to bring back fresh product over time, and that will extend the trend longer.”
Powell added, “This is the first time we aren’t seeing any growth in a performance category. Instead, the sportswear categories are primarily driven by retro.”
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Fila has capitalized on the moment by telling the brand’s rich history through product. Popular footwear styles for the heritage group include the Original Fitness, the F-13 and the Original Tennis.
“The product has to be relevant to the market now and also have some DNA that goes back to tell the story of what Fila is as far as the style, sport and history that we have,” said Louis Colon, director of heritage and lifestyle product at Fila.
Another element of its success is a new tiered retail strategy that targets key boutiques, street accounts and chain stores such as DTLR, Foot Locker and Urban Outfitters.
For Fila, its merchandise plan is about creating balance within the brand and building an assortment that makes sense for each retailer.
“We want the product to be different and to be a refresher on the wall for the retailer,” said Colon. “We don’t want the customer going into a mall and into the top three retailers and seeing the walls look exactly the same.”
Fila’s heritage division has also dedicated its attention to collaborations. In the past six months, the brand has partnered with retailer Alumni New York for the “Beef Patty” limited-edition sneaker and with rapper Nas and Sony Pictures for the “Ghostbusters” collection — which had a strong response from consumers.
Up next, the Staple x Fila capsule line is set to debut this month, featuring a range of apparel and footwear styles. And designer Gosha Rubchinskiy’s special Fila collection, which debuted at Pitti Uomo in June, will hit Comme des Garçons locations worldwide in early 2017, consisting of a limited selection of menswear apparel and footwear.
Recent Fila collabs are opening up new territory, said Epstein: “We are creating demand from different types of consumers, and collaborations have provided us that access. We offer limited product runs to satisfy the consumer craving for something unique and to keep each new collaboration in high demand.”
Colon added, “It’s more about making an impact, telling a story and making sure the product is quality and building an after-effect.”
In addition, the partnerships are influencing in-line product development, according to Colon, who explained that each special release presents an opportunity to experiment with new colors, materials and technologies.
He noted that by updating classic silhouettes with new treatments and fabrications, Fila will be able to keep pace in the marketplace. “We can stick to our DNA and apply this technology. That moves the needle for us and at a steady pace we need to grow,” Colon said.
One longtime retail partner, Mike Packer, the owner of Packer Shoes in New Jersey, is confident that Fila’s retro push is headed in the right direction. “You can’t make up heritage,” he said. “You can’t make up history and pure classic design. Fila has always had that on the footwear side, and the way the team is managing that now is probably the best ever within the last few years. [Its efforts] are showing not only through product creation but also with the sell-throughs.”